Prison Blogs, a Place of Freedom Behind Bars: Notes From a Workshop at the Barcelona Youth Detention Centre

Prison Blogs, a Place of Freedom Behind Bars: Notes From a Workshop at the Barcelona Youth Detention Centre

Jorge Franganillo (University of Barcelona, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5975-7.ch007
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This chapter reports on the cultural workshop which, from 2006 to 2008, encouraged a group of inmates at the Barcelona Youth Detention Centre to produce and publish blogs as a joint project between the Òmnia on-site internet access point, the prison library, and the Faculty of Library and Information Science of the University of Barcelona. The objectives of the project were to promote inmate education, improve their level of information, encourage them to read and write more, instill some ICT skills in them or strengthen those they already had, and broaden their contact with the outside world. Prison libraries are presented as an agent that supports the intellectual, social, and cultural development of inmates and thus can help them on the road to personal betterment. The prisoners' responses are critically assessed; the experience was considered positive, although the insufficient technological infrastructure and the prisoners' rejection of certain social conventions represent obstacles.
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In the Internet and in the library, prisoners have two useful tools for their cultural enhancement and personal development, as both can improve the conditions under which they move towards social reinsertion and integration. The mission of the library, despite the limitation of being a prison library, can expand almost infinitely. Through the Internet, and through the possibility of having a presence on the web which stretches beyond the necessary limits of the prison confines —and especially, a voice and a role to play in dialogue— prisoners can find a space of free and creative expression that is universal, and where they have equal rights. This space offers them the chance of personal enrichment and of improving their prison surroundings. Contact with and through the web can help dispel the dangers of isolation as, for much of the time, prison life is all the inmates experience, and so the Internet can improve their day to day existence while at the same time guaranteeing them a right.

Providing prisoners with access to the Internet is one of the Guidelines for Library Services to Prisoners of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA): «Where prison network security permits, prisoners shall be given supervised Internet access for education and treatment purposes, as well as pre-release planning.» (Lehman & Locke, 2006; Sulé, 2006). The Spanish Constitution expressly grants the right to access culture (art. 44.1) through, among other resources, a network of public libraries, and it extends this right (art. 25.2) to people who have been condemned to sentences which deprive them of their freedom. Declarations of a universal nature, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also express the right of prisoners to access information as an instrument of personal betterment (art. 19 and others). After all, the most general overall objective of imprisonment is to provide the educational tools and means of rehabilitation necessary to facilitate the reinsertion of prisoners into society. The library is precisely one of the institutions that can work efficiently as a framework and as a tool for personal improvement.

However, the reality of prison life seems to be quite different: we need to provide more space for the Internet in prisons to ensure that it is not reduced to insignificance. Both documented evidence and personal experience teach us that providing prisoners with access to what a library represents in general, and the Internet in particular, throws up important, but not insurmountable, challenges. The difficulties stem from weaknesses that tend to be firmly entrenched when we consider low levels of basic schooling; difficulties that result from cultural inequalities, particularly in terms of language and of social prejudices; difficulties brought about by practices that in one way or another govern the lives of people at risk of social exclusion. Moreover, there are difficulties in achieving the motivation necessary to carry out any task, even that of improving one’s own condition. The fact of having suffered from one failure after another makes it difficult for prisoners to want to embark on a project; but initial success, even though it may be minimal, is a powerful motivator to continue. This is where the library acquires its greatest importance and also where a workshop to promote culture can set in action what is in fact very much alive, even though it is dormant.

This chapter presents the experience of the cultural workshop that took place from 2006 to 2008 in the then Barcelona Youth Detention Centre (at present located at La Roca del Vallès). It also gives credit to a previous similar experience that was without a doubt an important precedent (Castell, Pallisé, Pedrola, Tomàs, & Burgos, 2006). The workshop encouraged a group of inmates to create and publish personal blogs, and it was brought about as a collaborative effort between the prison library, the Xarxa Òmnia and the University of Barcelona. The objectives were to promote prisoner education, encourage inmates to read and write more, awaken or strengthen their technological skills, improve their IT competences and their digital literacy, and broaden their contact with the outside world. Through the development of these skills, the workshop aimed to promote attitudes and habits that would favour the personal growth necessary for the prisoners to be able to participate in society as citizens, even though they did so from a detention centre.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Media Literacy: Ability to critically assess the accuracy and validity of information transmitted by the mass media (press, television, radio, and the internet) and to produce information via any medium.

Xarxa Òmnia: A program that fosters social inclusion through offering access to ICT tools. The Òmnia network is a preventative, socio-educational, community and support program for collectives who are at the greatest risk of vulnerability. It aims to encourage, both individually as collectively, inclusion and links between the people in the community. It is directed at the general population, paying special attention to people at social risk, especially if they need to improve their capacity to overcome their difficulties in accessing ICT, with the aim of preventing their exclusion from the community.

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